Rio 2016: The Effect of Sponsorship on Online Perception

The Olympics are now in full swing and it’s not just the sporting events that have been keeping the world on the edge of their seats.  The Rio 2016 Olympics have been plagued with controversy from the very beginning, from the Zika virus scare, to the Russian drug scandal and most recently the peculiar sight of the aquatic centre’s pools turning green.  When it comes to brands though, the most pressing matter appears to be the existence of Rule 40.  The rule prevents athletes from engaging with companies which are not official Olympic sponsors from 9 days before the opening ceremony until 3 days after the closing ceremony of Rio 2016.  Personal sponsors of the athletes are also prohibited from implying any “commercial connection” between the brand and the Olympic games.  The IOC have released a list of banned words, which are not to be used in connection to a participant during the Olympic blackout period, including Olympic, 2016, games and even summer.

We took a look at three leading sports brands, all of whom are associated with the Olympics.  Nike are official suppliers to the Olympics, supplying uniforms and products to all Olympic Games and Youth Olympic Games since 2013.   As well as sponsoring individual athletes from across the globe, they are also the sponsors of Team USA.  Adidas are the official sponsors of Team GB, while Under Armour have claimed the most decorated Olympian of all time, Michael Phelps, as their own.

So who will win gold in the race for top sponsor?



This week Nike are dominating the sporting world, mainly due to all eyes being on them as an official Olympic supplier.  Many positive mentions relate to their new ad which features Chance the Rapper, and the work they are doing to promote Chris Mosier, the first transgender athlete to be a part of Team USA.

Mentions of Under Armour are highly positive this week, with high levels of admiration and ecstasy being expressed toward the brand.  This was undoubtedly aided by Michael Phelps, with many fans thanking his sponsor for helping him to continue competing in the Olympics.

Adidas are trailing behind this week.  There was a lot of discussion around the Orlando Pirates jersey which was unveiled this week.  Many argued that the jersey showed Adidas’ unoriginality and laziness.  This detracted from the excitement surrounding the Olympics, and Adidas’ stake in the games.

Joy Index


This index measures levels of joy or amusement which is expressed toward a brand.

Nike have emerged as the most joyfully talked about brand of the three.  Nike shoes, including Jordans and Nike Air, are driving the most joy and ecstasy in online mentions.  Growing hype surrounding Nike’s Gym Red shoes has the potential to drive high levels of ecstasy toward the brand if this product is further featured and promoted, as mentions of this shoe are dominated by feelings of joy.

Under Armour are lagging just behind Adidas on this index, with the least joyful mentions of the group.  Negative mentions of Under Armour clothing items are driving the most grief toward the brand, with customers having the most issues with their polo shirts and hoodies.  Discussions relating to Under Armour sponsored basketball player Stephen Curry’s recent injury are threatening to drive further grief to the brand, as many speculate about the existence of the ‘Under Armour Curse’.

Interest Index


Vigilance occurs when hype and anticipation is built up around a brand, while amazement is more closely associated with the public’s surprise and the ‘wow’ factor of the brand.

These three brands all tend toward vigilance, with consumers associating the brands with varying degrees of hype and excitement.  Feelings of vigilance and heightened interest toward Nike are driven by Nike’s trainers, including Jordans and Nike Air.  An opportunity which emerged to drive further vigilance to the brand was to focus social media marketing on retro styles, both reminiscing about old styles, and re-releasing ‘vintage’ styles.

Under Armour are tending the most toward surprise.  If they wished to widen this gap and further differentiate themselves from these competitors by deepening amazement, focus should be shifted to products such as their MVP pack and footwear, rather than clothing items.

Trust Index


The Trust Index measures the levels of trust which are expressed toward a brand.

Nike is the victor on this scale too, with discussions related to running shoes driving the most trust toward the brand.  Mentions of Nike Kobe shoes are closely linked with high levels of trust.  If Nike want to further the gap between them and their competitors, this line would provide a perfect opportunity.

Many people on Twitter are comparing Adidas with Nike, which is leading to high levels of distrust being felt toward Adidas.  The company’s long standing rivalry with Puma, which was formed after a falling out between the two founding brothers of Adidas, presents some threat to the brand, with mentions of the feud being dominated by loathing and distrust.

Comfort Index


Brands should aim to position themselves in the centre of the Comfort Index.  On one side rage describes feelings of discomfort which results in the consumer taking action to rectify the situation, while on the other hand terror relates to feelings of insignificance and powerlessness on the consumer’s side to control their discomfort.

Again, Nike continue to come out on top in this competition, with the lowest levels of both terror and rage being expressed toward the brand.  Under Armour are the brand most at risk of descending further into the rage.  The topics which are driving the most rage on Twitter relate to Rule 40, with customers feeling that the ruling is unfair to the company who are passionately supporting 225 Olympic athletes this year, and helping them to achieve their dreams.  Addressing this issue after the blackout period may help to rectify these negative feelings.


In every index Nike has proven themselves to be the best brand when it comes to online mentions.  This may indicate that the investment which comes from officially partnering with the Olympics, and IOC enforcement of Rule 40 may actually pay off for the companies.  We are all looking forward to seeing how the athlete’s personal sponsors respond to the Rule 40 controversy on 24th August when the blackout period comes to an end.

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